Consumer Watchdog: Be sure to hang up on telephone scammers

Consumer Watchdog - Joe Dolinsky

We’re all familiar with the 570.

But what about the 809?

The facts on this scam are somewhere between rumor, reality and urban legend. And though this call isn’t coming from inside the house – the disappointing, eye-roll-inducing ending to so many of those types of tall tales – failing to know fact from fiction in this case can be costly.

As this one goes, victims will receive a message urging them to call a number beginning with an unusual area code, 809 in many cases, to claim a fantastic prize like a car, cruise, giant sack of money with dollar signs on it – you get the idea.

Other times, the message will take a darker turn, taking aim at the victim’s heartstrings and warning of a sick, injured or incarcerated relative.

The victim understandably reacts and calls the number back, not realizing the area code is that of the international variety, usually rooted in Canada or the Caribbean. The caller eventually gets their bill and sees they were slapped with international calling fees.

And it isn’t hard to fool people. Scammers outside the U.S. don’t need to inform users of rates in advance, often luring victims into calling an international version of a 900 number. And really, who can tell the difference just by looking at the number?

Sure, you might know it’s not local – but who’s to know it’s not even within the country?

The story is out there. It is legit?

Global communications giant AT&T thinks so. Its website warns of the scam and recommends ways to avoid it.

• Return calls to familiar numbers only. As a general rule, return calls from numbers that contain familiar or recognizable area codes. When in doubt, Google is a fine tool.

• Carefully read your telephone bill. Make sure that you only receive charges from your provider of choice. Ensure you thoroughly understand charges listed on your phone bill, have chosen to do business with all of the listed providers billing for those charges and have authorized additional fees invoiced.

Where the fiction comes in is the charges supposedly incurred during these calls. Some rumors claim the fees to be in the thousands for a call lasting only a few minutes. Well, hold the phone on that one.

The Better Business Bureau cleared the air on the claims, reporting that while a victim might incur charges, they won’t be daunting. If you see charges on your bill you’re unsure of, contact your provider. Many carriers will work with victims to remove fraudulent charges.

But like most telephone scams, the best way to thwart criminals is to just hang up.

Consumer Watchdog

Joe Dolinsky


Have you been wronged by a business? Have you been the victim of a scam? Joe Dolinsky, our Consumer Watchdog, is here to help. To reach Joe, email

Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL.

Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL.